Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Myrtle the Turtle and Friends

As a small child, I wasn't allowed many pets. There was the proverbial parakeet, of course, but my mother recoiled when UPS delivered the mail order monkey I ordered, for a quarter, from a newspaper ad.

I was allowed to have turtles. So began the procession of turtles, five in all, that all met the same curious fate--they disappeared under the living room couch. Each turtle was appropriately named "Myrtle the Turtle 1," "Myrtle the Turtle 2," "Myrtle the Turtle 3," etc.

When Myrtle the Turtle 5 took it upon himself to book a cruise below the living room sofa, I decided to find out exactly what happens to these poor reptiles after disappear.

Being a tiny creature myself, and only about 5, it was easy for me to slip under the couch, and reach for Myrtle the Turtle 5 who resisted me so virulently that I damn near cried. Of course, I don't remember much, but I do recall the sidelong glance of devout disapproval from Myrtle's eyes when I went to grab her, and bring her back to civilization, to no avail. Despite my best efforts, Myrtle met the identical fate of her predecessors.

Indeed, the closest thing to a turtle I'd seen since is a form of male menopause, that is until the other day, in one of my English classes, when I asked a student a question about a passage we were reading from Bertolt Brecht's "Stories of Mr. Keuner." I couldn't help but observe how the student reminded me of Myrtle the Turtle's look when I tried to retrieve her from under the couch. I hadn't met the same kind of resistance in years.

It occurs to me that resistance is the lowest common denominator. In Myrtle's case, there was something about the attention of a child that was most disturbing, or maybe it was the risk of discovery. But, what was it that the student resisted? What is it that makes most of us want to crawl under a couch rather than face the unknown?

Knowledge can be suffocating, but there is nothing liberating about blindness.